Barchester Towers and a Spot of #Trolloping

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It all started with Barbara Pym.

You might ask: what relation does Barbara Pym have to Anthony Trollope? You would be right in asking the question.

A few years ago, I read Excellent Women by Pym and immediately fell in love with her style of writing. On discovering she had not written many books, the research scholar in me decided to find ‘Pym-esque’ authors.

The search uncovered Angela Thirkell- described by Alexander McCall Smith as:

“perhaps the most Pym-like of any twentieth-century author, after Barbara Pym herself, of course.”

The setting of Thirkell’s novels, in the rural setting of provincial England, a fictitious place called Barsetshire made me aware of that county’s close relation- the original Barchester of Trollope’s novels.

To put a long story short, I came to Anthony Trollope quite by accident and in a roundabout way but I am very glad that this happy accident occurred.

I purchased the whole gamut of books that comprise the Chronicles of Barchester series and announced my intentions on Bookstagram (Instagram for Book Lovers). I was met with an overwhelming enthusiasm from Bookstagram friends and the Trollope Club (Just a Bunch of Trollopes) was born and along with it much discussion and merriment. We have a hashtag (#trolloping) and are currently reading our third book, Dt Thorne in July 2016.

But now to Barchester Towers, the book, itself.

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Barchester Towers takes us back to the hallowed precincts of the cathedral town of Barchester a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off.

The position of Warden at Hiram’s Hospital is still unoccupied, the Bishop of Barchester is on his deathbed and John Bold has left for his heavenly abode.

In short, these three facts set up the series of events that form the majority of the plot of Barchester Towers.

Even before the Bishop has expired, several people are plotting to steal the Bishopric for themselves, even the Bishop’s son-the Archdeacon, Dr Grantly.

The bishopric falls into the hands of a Dr Proudie: a man in good standing with men in high positions in the government and incidentally endowed with an amazon of a wife. Mrs Proudie not only holds the strings of her household in her able hands, she also has first say in all matters related to her husband’s affairs, much to the chagrin of the clergy in Barchester. To add insult to injury, Bishop Proudie’s obnoxious chaplain, Mr Slope, decides to subject his parishioners to a lengthy lecture on various religious matters during his first sermon.

The clergy of Barchester, particularly Archdeacon Grantly, are up in arms against Mr Slope and Bishop Proudie and their combined reforms. Several members of clergy are called back to their religious duties in Barchester. One of them. Dr Stanhope has to return from the idyllic shores of Lake Como to take up his duties in his parish. The Stanhope family and their contingent of exotic characters bring a touch of foreign excitement to the goings-on in Barchester, particularly Dr Stanhope’s married, crippled, seductive daughter who takes up the title of Signora. Her brother, the lazy, good for nothing but charming Bertie Stanhope is looking for an easy way to relieve his debts.

He sets his cap at Eleanor Bold, who has been widowed for over a year due to the untimely demise of John Bold who was introduced to us in The Warden. Eleanor has quite a substantial annual income and though she can live quite comfortably with her infant son and sister-in-law, this income unfortunately enables her to fall prey to several bachelors who are looking for an easy way to acquire money.

Two bachelors, Bertie Stanhope and the slippery Mr Slope woo her to achieve their own ends- financial gain. A third- A Mr Arabin, a clergyman placed newly in charge of the small parish of St Ewolds, a great favourite of Archdeacon Grantly and rival of Mr Slope is also added to the mix and we have the recipe for great entertainment and drama.

However, Barchester Towers is more than just an elaborate marriage plot. We are introduced to a large cast of captivating characters, each with their own very distinct characteristics. For me the highlight of the story was the introduction to the excellent host of characters.

Trollope uses a very unusual form of narrative whilst telling the story. Frequent authorial intrusion led to the disruption of the otherwise smooth narration. However, the dialogue between author and reader led to several instances of comedic comment from Trollope. He also frequently tried to manipulate the reader to adopt his way of thinking. I cannot think of any other novel where I have witnessed so many authorial asides and interjections.

Without giving too much away, we have a very satisfying conclusion to the story, leading me to agree with the author that

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”

 

Backstabbing, politics, humour, romance, conversation and  Victorian social etiquette combine very effectively  in this most excellent of novels, Barchester Towers.

I wonder, what will come next in the saga?

Souls Belated by Edith Wharton

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Souls Belated is a short story written by Edith Wharton. It tells of the relationship dynamics between Lydia Tilottson, the wife of a rich New Yorker and Ralph Gannett, a young writer and the man she has left her husband for.

The pair embark on a far-flung sojourn that takes them to the more remote and obscure regions of continental Europe: from Sicily, Dalmatia, Transylvania to Southern Italy. They pass from one country to another, posing as a married couple, shrouding themselves in a web of deceit and false pretenses. They move from one place to another hoping to find a place where they might set down roots and where Gannett might feel inspired to write again.

One day, however, an official letter arrives for Lydia in the post- her divorce papers and matters must come to a head.

The day that the papers arrive the couple are travelling to the Italian Lakes by train. From there, the plan is to secure a secluded spot in the mountains for Gannett to write and for them to be isolated from society.

As the railway compartment gradually empties just beyond Milan, Gannett broaches the subject of marriage to Lydia.

She answers in the most unexpected way, telling him that it is not her wish to marry him, leading him to doubt her regard for him.

Lydia responds: Don’t you see it’s because I care-because I care so much? Oh, Ralph! Can’t you see how it would humiliate me? Try to feel it as a woman would! Don’t you see the misery of being made your wife in this way? If I’d known you as a girl-that would have been a real marriage! But now-this vulgar fraud upon society -and upon a society we despised and laughed at-this sneaking back into a position that we’ve voluntarily forfeited:don’t you see what a cheap compromise it is? We neither believe in the abstract ‘sacredness’ of marriage; we both know that no ceremony is needed to consecrate our love for each other; what object can we have in marrying, except the secret fear of each that the other may escape, or the secret longing to work our way back gradually-oh,very gradually-into the esteem of the people whose conventional morality we have always ridiculed and hated?”

The train brings them at nightfall to an Anglo-American hotel on the brink of an Italian lake. What starts out as a plan to stay a night turns into a more permanent stay. Both of them feel the need to be in a crowded place, so that they may be distracted from their predicament and from each other.

Lydia and Gannett converge into the company of the society that they have scorned for so long- the genteel society of the rich and privileged who stay at the hotel. It is only when the farce of Lydia and Gannett’s false marriage is on the point of being exposed to their companions at the hotel that Lydia must make the decision of whether it is better to stay and marry Gannett, or leave and live an isolated life of her own.

This short story of Wharton’s addresses a number of important issues. The sanctity of marriage, the pressure of society to enter the institution of marriage, the issues of freedom and choice. It is quite a sad tale, very beautifully told, of two souls, very much in love with one another, who have met each other belatedly, at a point in life where marriage is more of a necessity than a joyful choice.

12 Classics I Want to Read in 2016

I love making lists, especially end of the year lists. A new year provides a subtle pause, a moment of reflection, a chance to redirect and reboot. I always look upon this time, to reflect upon on how I can enrich my life. One of the ways I thought of, was to read more classics. Sadly neglected for a few decades, I did most of my classic reading in my adolescence and youth.

My mother always urged me to read the classics before I read other books because she said it was easy to fall out of the habit of reading them, and how right she was.

So, 2016 will be a year of revisiting some classics (I want to re-read Emma) and reading some classics by some venerable names: Dickens, Trollope, Eliot and Wharton. Since, Charlotte Bronte’s writing is my favorite of the Bronte sisters, I look forward to picking up ‘Villete’ and also reading Hardy’s ‘Tess’, as Far From the Madding Crowd is a personal favourite.

Throughout, the year, as I finish the books, I will report back and hold myself accountable.

If you would like to read more about the book lists I have made for 2016, please see my list of 12 New Authors I would Like to Read in 2016.

These covers are so beautiful, I will let them speak for themselves

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The Warden

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What do you think of my list?

What are some of your favourite classics or books you plan to read in the New Year?